The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Get Noticed

Get Noticed

Many creative and content creators have doubted their abilities to share something inventive. They’ve experienced plenty of starts and stops. Self-doubt is often an integral part of the creative process.

 

On some level, most of us experience this. Self-doubt has a way of creeping in through all sorts of corners of our minds when we’re promoting an idea, ourselves, and sharing our perspectives with the world. No matter what field we’re in, as we try to figure out what and how we’d like to contribute we feel overwhelmed by the saturation and think, “What do I have to share that hasn’t already been shared? Can I find an innovative idea to express or even an innovative way to express it?” It’s easy to silence ourselves.

 

I experienced this self-doubt when I first opened my private practice. I looked at how many listings there are for psychotherapists in my city and thought, “What?! How’s this going to work?” I felt this the entire way through building my first website, and I felt it multifold when I decided I was going to keep a blog. And now and then that doubt resurfaces.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with experienced practitioners, mentors, and supervisors who told me different variations of the same thing- There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

 

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on their variations of this message I realized they were right. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, and completed trainings that are similar but land with me in different ways depending on the speaker and where I am in my practice and my own life. (And obviously, even this message I have been relying on all these years has been restated by the people whose advice I’ve valued most. It has never lost its impact.)

 

Broadening this perspective, we can see how many voices uttering the same message from slightly different points of view strengthen a movement and a message- Black Lives Matter, LGBT Equality, Women’s Equality, healthcare reform, and so many other critical causes. There is strength in numbers. What’s not powerful about adding to a growing movement?

 

We need to hear from each other. We need to make ourselves visible so that other members of our community see themselves reflected in us. We cannot hear a message about something until it resonates with us and not every voice or every group will resonate with all of us. So we need to hear from Black members of our community, Transgender members of our community, working single moms, upwardly mobile millennials, professional women, the neuroscience community, the spiritual communities, our youth, people with a sense of humor, people who embrace their vulnerability. I might not be able to hear the message that a 67-year-old straight, white man has to say, but I might be able to hear it from a Biracial, Queer, 67-year-old woman. I also might need to hear the same message from people across communities and identities and intersections.

You have a valuable voice and message worth sharing. You don’t have to sound like Audre Lorde or Tony Robbins or June Jordan. Stay authentic. Sound like yourself. There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

1 Tip to Stop Ignoring Your Pain

Pain is inevitable. If you’re alive, you feel pain. I write a lot about techniques and skills we can engage to alleviate our pain and suffering. There are so many options available to us, and I like to spread the word about protocols I’ve found useful. When we’re in emotional, physical, or spiritual pain, sometimes we need to apply a technique or change positions or take a medication or seek support to help ease some of our burdens.

And sometimes we need to sit with it.

This is often confusing to us because of our cultural messaging about pain. It’s categorized as “bad” and in need of immediate amelioration. It is our adversary. The way we deal with pain is to either totally stigmatize it and think we must be bad humans if we’re experiencing it or to completely normalize it and search for someone or something to help us keep ourselves from feeling it. We think “I’m in pain. I must be bad,” or “I’m in pain and I can’t handle it.” If we are in pain, we’re encouraged to throw everything we’ve got in our tool kits at it and never look back. Take a pill; take ten pills; take a vacation; move; buy something; buy everything; get rid of everything you own and live a monastic, minimal life; get a divorce; get married; do something; do anything; produce any external result.

There is a time for acting, for taking steps, for making major life changes and there is a time for inaction, for sitting with the information we’re receiving from our pain or discomfort. “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

All over the internet, in magazines, in self-help books, at workshops we can find myriad strategies for managing and relieving pain. Everywhere we look we see titles reading, “5 Quick Tips for Relieving Anxiety” and “6 Ways to Getting Over It.” I contribute to this, too! I write about tips and sometimes use catchy titles in hopes of drawing attention to tools I’ve found useful both personally and clinically. It’s great to have so many options, and it’s proficient to apply techniques to feeling better. But the answer isn’t always to do something.

It’s important that we face our pain, see it, and pay attention to it. It is important that we hear what our pain is telling us. Pain is useful. It communicates perceived danger, wounding, and injury. It contains essential information about our immediate and unmet needs.

Pain is always trying to tell us something, and it will never get its need met if we don’t figure out what it’s telling us. If it doesn’t get its need met, it will keep gnawing at us in bigger and louder (and often more uncomfortable) ways. Pain understands that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. So, it opens its mouth and talks to us anyway it knows how. If that doesn’t work, it raises the volume of its voice and continues to raise it until we hear what it’s saying and investigate. If we treat our pain with respect, dignity, and curiosity, we will begin to understand what it needs from us. The more we understand our pain, the less afraid of it we will be and to sit with it will feel more tolerable. Eventually, our relationship to pain will change.

There are two irrefutable truths about pain: 1) We will always experience it and 2) It will always hurt. We will always experience pain because we are living beings and all living beings experience some form of pain. It will always hurt because that is the most effective way of getting our attention.

As we learn to sit with our pain we will begin to notice that our reactions to much of our pain stimuli will change from “Oh my god, I’m going to die,” to “Oh my god, I feel like I’m going to die,” and “This really sucks but let’s see what the hell is happening here,” and “Damn, I’m in so much pain. Let’s see what this pain wants or needs from me,” and so on.

If you’d like to try this on your own, I recommend experimenting with something more surface-level at first. Try sitting with a minor irritation like an itch or the frustration of waiting for a website page to load. With more substantial pain, it is wise to start our inquiry into our pain with the accompaniment and guidance of a skilled practitioner. A lot can come up, and we can become very overwhelmed very quickly. That’s kind of the thing about pain, isn’t it? Sitting with it is, well, painful.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

(Side note: I am right there with you. I also don’t like pain and still find myself avoiding it or ignoring it. No one is exempt from this process.)

“I have anxiety… or do I?”

“I have anxiety… or do I?”

I’m a therapist. I talk a lot about feelings. On this site, I write a lot about feelings, how overwhelming they can be, the consequence of letting them spin out of control, and how to manage them. Since I don’t want feelings to get a bad reputation, I’m going to talk about what incredible guides they can be.

People come to see me for help with their relationships, careers, decision-making, and trauma work. Feelings play an important role in all of these situations. It’s common for people to have trouble deciphering and trusting their feelings. For most of us, when feelings are left unidentified or untrusted they can start to feel like they are totally out of our control. This is when emotion management is really helpful.

And sometimes they’re not out of control. Sometimes they don’t need to be contained and managed. There are times when all we need to do is listen to them because they are telling us something we need to know. This is tricky, though. It can be a tough balance between listening to what our feelings are telling us and feeling overwhelmed and confused by them.

A lot of us struggle with this. We look for ways to soothe feelings we would rather not feel. We look for ways to soothe others’ feelings that they would rather not feel. We reinforce that certain feelings are nothing more than a hurdle to jump. We just want those feelings to go away so that we can feel good again and do what we want to do. It’s understandable.

Remember the example about fire? When we put our hand near a flame, we feel the heat. The closer we move our hand to that flame, the more heat we can feel and the greater the pain we experience. If it didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t be inspired to keep a prudent distance from the flame, and we’d get burned. The pain serves as a useful guide to help us protect ourselves from danger.

We can use this logic for all emotion states, too. If we’re resentful, it might mean we need to self-advocate. If we’re embarrassed, it might mean we need to be more honest with ourselves. If we’re anxious, it might mean we need to put more effort into something. And let’s look at a big one- guilt and shame. Sometimes these emotion states are warning us and sometimes they’re drowning us… and sometimes it’s both.

There are plenty of times when feelings are less about our present experience and more about our past experience. When this happens, the anxiety that we’re feeling might have nothing to do with our level of effort. This is when managing and containing the feeling is important because the guide is a bit off; it’s your brain’s way of trying to predict what is going to happen next based on an old pattern, not the current pattern.

The best way to differentiate between feelings as guides and feelings as overwhelming monsters that need to be managed and contained is to learn about your patterns, past, and present, and start making connections.

If you have any questions about how you can use your feelings as guides, please call or email me. My contact information is located in the “Contact Me” section of this website. I look forward to talking with you!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Break Free From Self-Doubt

Break Free From Self-Doubt

At some point, all of us doubt ourselves. We doubt that we are going in the right direction. We doubt that we are acceptable just as we are. We doubt that people will still love us if they saw certain aspects of us, found out about our past, knew what we were thinking, or learned about things we’ve done. We doubt that we are smart enough, or good enough. We doubt that our bodies, minds, and souls are enough. We doubt that we have enough, do enough, and are enough.

Self-doubt can be crippling. It keeps us stuck. We are too afraid to make a choice, to make a move. We stay at the same job, in the same relationship, in the same pattern that has caused us pain for years. Our comfort zone has now, somehow, become out uncomfortable zone, but to step even one foot outside the line feels too threatening, too overwhelming.

We start to believe that happiness is for other people, not us. Years go by, and we feel that, because we have been struggling with it, this should be as good as working on it. We grow increasingly resentful of the people around us who seem to get what they want without all the suffering we seem to experience. We are embittered, jaded, cynical, and now feel even further from our goals.

Then something happens. It looks different for everyone. But something happens. For some of us, it is a shift in our thinking. For others, it’s a slight change in our usual behavior. Either after years of striving or one day, accidentally, we allow a shred of hope to penetrate our despair. We’re still terrified, but not terrified into paralysis (or as much paralysis as before). We can still hear that voice telling us to turn back, that we’re going to be slaughtered, but we don’t follow its instruction. (This could be because we are learning that it’s just our scared little lizard brain trying to protect us from a threat that doesn’t exist.)

We start to realize that, while there will be many slips and falls along the way, we can’t be broken. We realize that the prison of self-doubt is so much worse than any slip or fall we could ever encounter. We don’t mind the trip-ups as much because we finally feel a sense of freedom, a sense of happiness that we didn’t think we would ever know

I want to walk with you on this journey. I want to talk with you about what keeps you locked in that tiny room of self-doubt and fear and anxiety and hardship. I want us both to find out what has kept you imprisoned for so long and what you need to connect to your courage so that you can emerge.

What will it look like when you stop living in doubt? Will you make any major shifts in your life? Will they be external or internal? Or both? What will you have in your life that doesn’t feel possible now?

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie